As if today's economy were not stressful enough, growing millions of Americans now face the disruption of a poorly understood condition that can wreak havoc on their emotional, social and professional lives. April was designated as Rosacea Awareness Month by the National Rosacea Society (NRS) to alert the public to the warning signs of this chronic but treatable disorder now estimated to affect well over 14 million Americans.
"Whether it's a job interview or simply a social occasion, few things can be more disconcerting for many than developing a red face or blemishes," said Dr. John Wolf, chairman of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine. "While the initial signs of rosacea may come and go, without proper diagnosis and appropriate medical therapy, the disorder can grow progressively more persistent and severe."
Rosacea usually first strikes individuals between the ages of 30 and 60, and may initially resemble a simple sunburn or an inexplicable blush. Suddenly, without warning, a flush comes to their cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. Then just when they start to feel concerned, the redness disappears.
Unfortunately, it happens again and again, becoming ruddier and lasting longer each time -- and eventually, visible blood vessels may appear. Without treatment, bumps and pimples often develop, and burning, itching and stinging are common.
In severe cases, especially in men, the nose may become enlarged from the development of excess tissue. This is the condition that gave comedian W.C. Fields his trademark red, bulbous nose. In some people the eyes are also affected, feeling irritated and appearing watery or bloodshot. Severe cases of this condition, known as ocular rosacea, can result in reduced visual acuity.
Adding to medical concerns, new study results and other factors suggest that rosacea may be substantially more prevalent than is widely believed. Results of an NRS-funded study, recently presented by Dr. Maeve McAleer and colleagues from Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, for example, found that 14.4 percent of 1,000 subjects examined in Ireland had rosacea.1
"As a chronic condition characterized by flare-ups and remissions, the prevalence of rosacea may appear to be lower because the signs and symptoms are not present at all times in every individual affected by the disorder," Dr. Wolf said. "As a result, the number of people who suffer from rosacea may be substantially higher than has been traditionally reported."
Individuals who suspect they may have rosacea are urged to see a doctor for diagnosis and appropriate therapy.
- McAleer MA, Fitzpatrick P, Powell FC. The prevalence and pathogenesis of rosacea. Poster presentation, British Association of Dermatologists annual meeting, Liverpool, July 1-4, 2008.